Sam Rice's Romance

by Frances Fuller Victor

The coach of Wells, Fargo & Co. stood before the door of Piney-woods Station, and Sam Rice, the driver, was drawing on his lemon-colored gloves with an air, for Sam was the pink of stage-drivers, from his high white hat to his faultless French boots. Sad will it be when his profession shall have been altogether superseded; and the coach-and-six, with its gracious and graceful "whip," shall have been supplanted, on all the principal lines of travel, by the iron-horse with its grimy "driver" and train of thundering carriages.

The passengers had taken their seats—the one lady on the box—and Sam Rice stood, chronometer held daintily between thumb and finger, waiting for the second hand to come round the quarter of a minute, while the grooms slipped the last strap of the harness into its buckle. At the expiration of the quarter of a minute, as Sam stuck an unlighted cigar between his lips and took hold of the box to pull himself up to his seat, the good-natured landlady of Piney-woods Station called out, with some officiousness:

"Mr. Rice, don't you want a match?"

"That's just what I've been looking for these ten years," responded Sam; and at that instant his eyes were on a level with the lady's on the box, so that he could not help seeing the roguish glint of them, which so far disconcerted the usually self-possessed professor of the whip that he heard not the landlady's laugh, but gathered up the reins in such a hasty and careless manner as to cause Demon, the nigh-leader, to go off with a bound that nearly threw the owner of the eyes out of her place. The little flurry gave opportunity for Mrs. Dolly Page—that was the lady's name—to drop her veil over her face, and for Sam Rice to show his genteel handling of the ribbons, and conquer the unaccountable disturbance of his pulses.

Sam had looked at the way-bill, not ten minutes before, to ascertain the name of the pretty black-eyed woman seated at his left hand; and the consciousness of so great a curiosity gratified, may have augmented his unaccustomed embarrassment. Certain it is, Sam Rice had driven six horses, on a ticklish mountain road, for four years, without missing a trip; and had more than once encountered the "road-agents," without ever yet delivering them an express box; had had old and young ladies, plain and beautiful ones, to sit beside him, hundreds of times: yet this was the first time he had consulted the way-bill, on his own account, to find a lady's name. This one time, too, it had a Mrs. before it, which prefix gave him a pang he was very unwilling to own. On the other hand, Mrs. Dolly Page was clad in extremely deep black. Could she be in mourning for Mr. Page? If Demon had an unusual number of starting fits that afternoon, his driver was not altogether guiltless in the matter; for what horse, so sensitive as he, would not have felt the magnetism of something wrong behind him?

But as the mocking eyes kept hidden behind a veil, and the rich, musical voice uttered not a word through a whole half-hour, which seemed an age to Sam, he finally recovered himself so far as to say he believed he would not smoke, after all; and thereupon returned the cigar, still unlighted, to his pocket.

"I hope you do not deprive yourself of a luxury on my account," murmured the soft voice.

"I guess this dust and sunshine is enough for a lady to stand, without my smokin' in her face," returned Sam, politely, and glancing at the veil.

"Still, I beg you will smoke, if you are accustomed," persisted the cooing voice behind it. But Sam, to his praise be it spoken, refused to add anything to the discomforts of a summer day's ride across the mountains. His chivalry had its reward; for the lady thus favored, feeling constrained to make some return for such consideration, began to talk, in a vein that delighted her auditor, about horses—their points and their traits—and, lastly, about their drivers.

"I have always fancied," said Mrs. Dolly Page, "that if I were a man I should take to stage-driving as a profession. It seems to me a free and manly calling, one that develops some of the best qualities of a man. Of course, it has its drawbacks. One cannot always choose one's society on a stage, and there are temptations to bad habits. Besides, there are storms, and upsets, and all that sort of thing. I've often thought," continued Mrs. Dolly, "that we do not consider enough the hardships of drivers, nor what we owe them. You've read that poem—the Post-boy's Song:

"'Like a shuttle thrown by the hand of Fate,

Forward and back I go.'

"Well, it is just so. They do bring us our letters, full of good and ill news, helping to weave the web of Fate for us; yet not to blame for what tidings they bring, and always faithful to their duties, in storm or shine."

"I shall like my profession better after what you have said of it," answered Sam, giving his whip a curl to make it touch the off-leader's right ear. "I've done my duty mostly, and not complained of the hardships, though once or twice I've been too beat out to get off the box at the end of my drive; but that was in a long spell of bad weather, when the roads was just awful, and the rain as cold as snow."

"Would you mind letting me hold the lines awhile?" asked the cooing voice, at last. "I've driven a six-in-hand before."

Though decidedly startled, and averse to trusting his team to such a pair of hands, Sam was compelled, by the psychic force of the little woman, to yield up the reins. It was with fear and trembling that he watched her handling of them for the first mile; but, as she really seemed to know what she was about, his confidence increased, and he watched her with admiration. Her veil was now up, her eyes were sparkling, and cheeks glowing. She did not speak often, but, when she did, it was always something piquant and graceful that she uttered. At last, just as the station was in sight, she yielded up the lines, with a deep-drawn sigh of satisfaction, apologizing for it by saying that her hands, not being used to it, were tired. "I'm not sure," she added, "but I shall take to the box, at last, as a steady thing."

"If you do," responded Sam, gallantly, "I hope you will drive on my line."

"Thanks. I shall ask you for a reference, when I apply for the situation."

There was then a halt, a supply of fresh horses, and a prompt, lively start. But the afternoon was intensely hot, and the team soon sobered down. Mrs. Page did not offer again to take the lines. She was overwarm and weary, perhaps, quiet and a little sad, at any rate. Mr. Rice was quiet, too, and thoughtful. The passengers inside were asleep. The coach rattled along at a steady pace, with the dust so deep under the wheels as to still their rumble. At intervals, a freight-wagon was passed, drawn to one side, at a "turn-out," or a rabbit skipped across the road, or a solitary horseman suggested alternately a "road-agent," or one of James's heroes. Grand views presented themselves of wooded cliffs and wild ravines. Tall pines threw lengthening shadows across the open spaces on the mountain-sides. And so the afternoon wore away; and, when the sun was setting, the passengers alighted for their supper at the principal hotel of Lucky-dog—a mining-camp, pretty well up in the Sierras.

"We both stop here," said Sam, as he helped the lady down from her high position; letting her know by this remark that her destination was known to him.

"I'm rather glad of that," she answered, frankly, with a little smile; and, considering all that had transpired on that long drive, Sam was certainly pardonable if he felt almost sure that her reason for being glad was identical with his own.

Lucky-dog was one of those shambling, new camps, where one street serves for a string on which two or three dozen ill-assorted tenements are strung, every fifth one being a place intended for the relief of the universal American thirst, though the liquids dispensed at these beneficent institutions were observed rather to provoke than to abate the dryness of their patrons. Eating-houses were even more frequent than those which dispensed moisture to parched throats; so that, taking a cursory view of the windows fronting on the street, the impression was inevitably conveyed of the expected rush of famished armies, whose wants this charitable community were only too willing to supply for a sufficient consideration. The houses that were not eating and drinking-houses were hotels, if we except occasional grocery and general merchandise establishments. Into what out-of-the-way corners the inhabitants were stowed, it was impossible to conjecture, until it was discovered that the men lived at the places already inventoried, and that women abode not at all in Lucky-dog—or if there were any, not more than a half a dozen of them, and they lived in unaccustomed places.

The advent of Mrs. Page at the Silver Brick Hotel naturally made a sensation. As assemblage of not less than fifty gentlemen of leisure crowded about the entrance, each more intent than the other on getting a look at the arrivals, and especially at this one arrival—whose age, looks, name, business, and intentions in coming to Lucky-dog, were discussed with great freedom. Sam Rice was closely questioned, but proved reticent and non-committal. The landlord was besieged with inquiries—the landlady, too—and all without anybody being made much the wiser. There was the waybill, and there was the lady herself; put that and that together, and make what you could of it.

Mrs. Dolly Page did not seem discomposed in the least by the evident interest she inspired. With her black curls smoothly brushed, her black robes immaculately neat, with a pretty color in her round cheeks, and a quietly absorbed expression in her whole bearing, she endured the concentrated gaze of fifty pairs of eyes during the whole of dinner, without so much as one awkward movement, or the dropping of a fork or teaspoon. So it was plain that the curious would be compelled to await Mrs. Page's own time for developments.

But developments did not seem likely to come overwhelmingly. Mrs. Page made a fast friend of the landlady of the Silver Brick, by means of little household arts peculiarly her own, and, before a fortnight was gone, had become as indispensable to all the boarders as she was to Mrs. Shaughnessy herself. If she had a history, she kept it carefully from curious ears. Mrs. Shaughnessy was evidently satisfied, and quite challenged criticism of her favorite. Indeed, there was nothing to criticise. It was generally understood that she was a widow, who had to get on in the world as best she could, and thus the public sympathy was secured, and an embargo laid upon gossip. To be sure, there were certain men in Lucky-dog, of a class which has its representatives everywhere, who regarded all unappropriated women, especially pretty women, very much as the hunter regards game, and the more difficult the approach, the more exciting the chase. But these moral Nimrods had not half the chance with self-possessed Mrs. Dolly Page that they would have had with a different style of woman. The grosser sort got a sudden congé; and with the more refined sportsmen she coquetted just enough to show them that two could play at a game of "make-believe," and then sent them off with a lofty scorn edifying to behold—to the mingled admiration and amusement of Mrs. Shaughnessy.

The only affair which seemed to have a kernel of seriousness in it, was that of Mr. Samuel Rice. Regularly, when the stage was in, on Sam's night, he paid his respects to Mrs. Page. And Mrs. Page always received him with a graceful friendliness, asking after the horses, and even sometimes going so far as to accompany him to their stables. On these occasions she never failed to carry several lumps of sugar in her pocket, which she fed to the handsome brutes off her own pink palm, until there was not one of them she could not handle at her will.

Thus passed many weeks, until summer was drawing to a close. Two or three times she had gone down to Piney-woods Station and back, on Sam's coach, and always sat on the box, and drove a part of the way, but never where her driving would excite remark. It is superfluous to state, that on these occasions there was a happy heart beneath Sam's linen-duster, or that the bantering remarks of his brother-drivers were borne with smiling equanimity, not to say pride; for Sam was well aware that Mrs. Dolly Page's brunette beauty, and his blonde-bearded style, together furnished a not unpleasing tableau of personal charms. Besides, Sam's motto was, "Let those laugh who win;" and he seemed to himself to be on the road to heights of happiness beyond the ken of ordinary mortals—especially ordinary stage-drivers.

"I don't calkelate to drive stage more than a year or two longer," Sam said to Mrs. Page, confidentially, on the return from their last trip together to Piney-woods Station. "I've got a little place down in Amador, and an interest in the Nip-and-tuck gold-mine, besides a few hundreds in bank. I've a notion to settle down some day, in a cottage with vines over the porch, with a little woman to tend the flowers in the front-garden."

As if Sam's heightened color and shining eyes had not sufficiently pointed this confession of his desires, it chanced that at this moment the eyes of both were attracted to a way-side picture: a cottage, a flower-bordered walk, a fair young woman standing at the gate, with a crowing babe in her arms lifting its little white hands to the sun-browned face of a stalwart young farmer who was smiling proudly on the two. At this sudden apparition of his inmost thoughts, Sam's heart gave a great bound, and there was a simultaneous ringing in his ears. His first instinctive act was to crack his whip so fiercely as to set the leaders off prancing; and when, by this diversion, he had partly recovered self-possession to glance at the face of his companion, a new embarrassment seized him when he discovered two little rivers of tears running over the crimsoned cheeks. But a coach-box is not a convenient place for sentiment to display itself; and, though the temptation was great to inquire into the cause of the tears, with a view of offering consolation, Sam prudently looked the other way, and maintained silence. The reader, however, knows that those tears sank into the beholder's soul, and caused to germinate countless tender thoughts and emotions, which were, on some future occasion, to be laid upon the alter of his devotion to Mrs. Dolly Page. And none the less, that, in a few minutes, the eyes which shed them resumed their roguish brightness, and the lady was totally unconscious of having heard, seen, or felt any embarrassment. Sentiment between them was successfully tabooed, so far as utterance was concerned, for that time. And so Sam found, somewhat to his disappointment, it continued to fall out, that whenever he got upon delicate ground, the lady was off like a humming-bird, darting hither and yon, so that it was impossible to put a finger upon her, or get so much as a look at her brilliant and restless wings. But nobody ever tired of trying to find a humming-bird at rest; and so Sam never gave up looking for the opportune moment of speaking his mind.

Meanwhile, Lucky-dog Camp was having a fresh sensation. An organized band of gamblers, robbers, and "road-agents" had made a swoop upon its property, of various kinds, and had succeeded in making off with it. The very night after the ride just mentioned, the best horses in Sam Rice's team were stolen, making it necessary to substitute what Sam called "a pa'r of ornery cayuses." To put the climax to his misfortunes, the "road-agents" attacked him next morning, when, the "ornery cayuses" becoming unmanageable, Sam was forced to surrender the treasure-box, and the passengers their bullion. The excitement in Lucky-dog was intense. A vigilance committee, secretly organized, lay in waiting for the offenders, and, after a week or two, made a capture of a well-known sporting-man, whose presence in camp had for some time been regarded with suspicion. Short shrift was afforded him. That same afternoon his gentlemanly person swung dangling from a gnarled pine-tree limb, and his frightened soul had fled into outer darkness.

When this event became known to Mrs. Dolly Page, she turned ghostly white, and then fainted dead away. Mrs. Shanghnessy was very much concerned for her friend; berating in round terms, the brutishness of people who could talk of such things before a tender-hearted lady like that. To Mr. Rice, particularly, she expatiated upon the coarseness of certain people, and the refined sensitiveness of others; and Sam was much inclined to agree with her, so far as her remarks applied to her friend, who was not yet recovered sufficiently to be visible. Indeed, Mrs. Page was not visible for so many days, that Sam's soul began to long for her with a mighty longing. At length, she made her appearance, considerably paler and thinner than was her wont; but doubly interesting and lovely to the eyes of so partial an observer as Sam, who would willingly have sheltered her weakness in his strong, manly arms. Sam, naturally enough, would never have hinted at the event which had so distressed her; but she relieved him of all embarrassment on that subject, by saying to him almost at once:

"Mr. Rice, I am told they have not buried the man they hung, so shockingly, the other day. They certainly will not leave him there?" she added, with a shudder.

"I don't know—I suppose," stammered Sam, "it is their way, with them fellows."

"But you will not allow it? You cannot allow it!"—excitedly.

"I couldn't prevent them," said Sam, quite humbly.

"Mr. Rice," and her voice was at once a command and an entreaty, "you can and must prevent it. You are not afraid? I will go with you—this very night—and will help you. Don't say you will not; for I cannot sleep until it is done. I have not slept for a week."

She looked so white and so wild, as she uttered this confession, that Sam would have been the wretch he was not, to refuse her. So he said:

"Don't you fret. I'll bury him, if it troubles you so. But you needn't go along. You couldn't; it's too far, and you're too weak,"—seeing how she trembled.

"I am not weak—only nervous. I prefer to go along. But we must be secret, I suppose? Oh!"—with a start that was indeed "nervous."

"Yes, we must be secret," said Sam; and he looked as if he did not half like the business, but would not refuse.

"You are a good man, Mr. Rice, and I thank you." And with that, Mrs. Dolly Page caught up one of his hands, and kissing it hastily, began to cry, as she walked quickly away.

"Don't cry, and don't go until I have promised to do whatever you ask, if it will make you well again," Sam said, following her to the door.

"Then call for me to take a walk with you to-night. The moon is full, but no one will observe us. They would not think of our going there,"—with another shudder—and she slipped away from his detaining hand.

That evening Mr. Samuel Rice and Mrs. Page took a walk by moonlight. Laughing gossips commented on it after their fashion; and disagreeable gossips remarked that they came home very late, after their fashion. But nobody, they believed, saw where they went, or what they did. Yet those two came from performing an act of Christian charity, each with a sense of guilt and unworthiness very irritating to endure, albeit from very different causes. One, because an unwelcome suspicion had thrust itself into his mind; and the other——

The ground of Sam's suspicion was a photograph, which, in handling the gambler's body somewhat awkwardly, by reason of its weight—Mrs. Page had found, at the last, she could not render any assistance—had slipped from some receptacle in its clothing. A hasty glance, under the full light of the moon, had shown him the features of the lady who sat twelve paces away, with her hands over her face. It is not always those that sin who suffer most from the consciousness of sin; and Sam, perhaps, with that hint of possible—nay, almost certain—wickedness in his breast-pocket, was more burdened by the weight of it than many a criminal about to suffer all the terrors of the law; for the woman that he loved stood accused, if not convicted, before his conscience and her own, and he could not condemn, because his heart refused to judge her.

When the two stood together under the light of the lamp in the deserted parlor of the Silver Brick Hotel, the long silence which, by her quick perceptions, had been recognized as accusing her, upon what evidence she did not yet know, was at length broken by Sam's voice, husky with agitation.

"Mrs. Page," he said, assuming an unconscious dignity of mien and sternness of countenance, "I shall ask you some questions, sometime, which you may not think quite polite. And you must answer me: you understand. I'm bound to know the truth about this man."

"About this man!" Then he suspected her of connection with the wretched criminal whose body had only just now been hidden from mocking eyes? How much did he suspect? how much did he know? Her pale face and frightened eyes seemed to ask these questions of him; but not a sound escaped her lips. The imploring look, so strange upon her usually bright face, touched all that was tender in Sam's romantic nature. In another moment he would have recalled his demand, and trusted her infinitely; but in that critical moment she fainted quite away, to his mingled sorrow and alarm; and Mrs. Shaughnessy being summoned, Sam received a wordy reprimand for having no more sense than to keep a sick woman up half of the night; smarting under which undeserved censure, he retired, to think over the events of the evening.

The hour of departure from Luckydog, for Sam's coach, was four o'clock in the morning; and its driver was not a little surprised, when about to mount the box, to discover Mrs. Page waiting to take a seat beside him. After the adventure of the previous night, it was with some restraint that he addressed her; and there was wanting, also, something of his cheerful alacrity of manner, when he requested the stranger who had taken the box-seat, to yield it to a lady. The stranger's mood seemed uncongenial, for he declined to abdicate, intimating that there was room for the lady between himself and the driver, if she insisted upon an outside seat.

But Mrs. Page did not insist. She whispered Sam to open the coach-door, and quietly took a seat inside; and Sam, with a sense of irritation very unusual with him, climbed reluctantly to his place, giving the "cayuses" the lash in a way that set them off on a keen run. By the time he had gotten his team cooled down, the unusual mood had passed, and the longing returned to hear the sweet voice, and watch the bright eyes that had made his happiness on former occasions. Puzzled as he was, and pained by the evidence he possessed of her connection, in some way, with the victim of lynch-law, that seemed like a dream in the clear, sunny air of morning, while the more blissful past asserted its claim to be considered reality. Not a lark, warbling its flute-notes by the way-side, not a pretty bit of the familiar landscape, nor glimpse of brook, that leaped sparkling down the mountain, but recalled some charming utterance of Mrs. Dolly Page, as he first knew her; as he could not now recognize her in the pale, nervous, and evidently suffering woman, sitting, closely veiled, inside the coach.

Occupied with these thoughts, Sam felt a disagreeable shock when the outside passenger—in a voice that contrasted roughly with that other voice which was murmuring in his ear—began a remark about the mining prospects of Lucky-dog.

"Some rich discoveries made in the neighborhood, eh? Did you ever try your luck at mining?"

"Waal, no. I own a little stock, though," answered Sam, carelessly.

"In what mine?"

"In the Nip-and-tuck."

"Good mine, from all I hear about it. Never did any prospecting?" asked the stranger, in that tone which denotes only a desire to make talk, with a view to kill time.

"No," in the same tone.

"That's odd," stuffing a handful of cut tobacco into his mouth. "I'd have sworn 'twas you I saw swinging a pick in the cañon east of camp last night."

"I'm not much on picks," Sam returned, with a slowness that well counterfeited indifference. "I was visiting a lady last evening, which is a kind of prospecting more in my line."

"Yes, I understand; that lady inside the coach. She's a game one."

"It strikes me you're devilish free in your remarks," said Sam, becoming irritated again.

"No offense meant, I'm sure. Take a cigar? We may as well talk this matter over calmly, Mr. Rice. You see it's ten to one that you are implicated in this business. Been very attentive to Mrs. Page. Made several trips together. Let her handle your horses, so she could take them out of the stable for them thieves. Buried her thieving, gambling husband for her. You see the case looks bad, anyway; though I'm inclined to think you've just been made a tool of. I know she's a smart one. Tain't often you find one smarter."

Sam's eyes scintillated. He was strangely minded to pitch the outside passenger off the coach. The struggle in his breast between conviction and resistance to conviction amounted to agony. He could not, in that supreme moment, discriminate between the anger he felt at being falsely accused, and the grief and rage of being so horrible disillusioned. Their combined anguish paled his cheeks, and set his teeth on edge: of all of which the outside passenger was coolly cognizant. As they were, at that moment, in sight of the first station, he resumed.

"Let her get up here, if she wants to; I can ride inside. I don't want to be hard on her; but mind, if you breathe a word to her about my being an officer, I'll arrest you on suspicion. Let every tub stand on its own bottom. If she's guilty, you can't help her, and don't want to, either; if she's innocent, she'll come out all right, never fear. Are you on the square, now?"

"Have you got a warrant?" asked Sam, in a low tone, as he wound the lines around the break, previous to getting down.

"You bet! but I'm in no hurry to serve it. Piney-woods station 'ill do just as well. Telegraph office there."

Mr. Rice was not in any haste this morning, being, as he said, ahead of time. He invited Mrs. Page to take her usual place on the box, telling her the gentleman had concluded to go inside; and brought her a glass of water from the bar. While he was returning the glass, the passengers, including him of the outside, being busied assuaging their thirst with something stronger than water, a rattle of wheels and a clatter of hoofs was heard, and, lo! Mrs. Dolly Page was discovered to be practicing her favorite accomplishment of driving six-in-hand!

When the "outside" recovered from his momentary surprise, he clapped his hand on the shoulder of Mr. Rice, and said, in a voice savage with spite and disappointment:

"I arrest you, sir."

"Arrest and be d——d!" returned Sam. "If you had done your duty, you'd have arrested her while you had the chance."

"That's so—your head is level; and if you'll assist me in getting on to Piney-woods station in time to catch the run-away—for she can't very well drive beyond that station—I'll let you off."

"You'll wait till I'm on, I reckon. My horses can't go on that errand, and you darsn't take the up-driver's team. Put that it your pipe and smoke it, old smarty!"—and Sam's eyes emitted steel-blue lightnings, though his face wore a fixed expression of smiling.

Upon inquiry, it was ascertained that horses might be procured a mile back from the station; and, while the baffled officer, and such of the passengers as could not wait until next day, went in pursuit of them, Sam mounted one of the "cayuses," and made what haste he could after the coach and Wells, Fargo & Company's express-box. Within a mile or less of Piney-woods Station, he met the keeper, the grooms, and an odd man or two, that chanced to have been about the place, all armed to the teeth, who, when they saw him, halted in surprise.

"Why, we reckoned you was dead," said the head man, with an air of disappointment.

"Dead?" repeated Sam. "Have you seen my coach?"

"That's all right, down to the station; and the plucky gal that druv it told us all about the raid the 'road-agents' made on you. Whar's the passengers? any of 'em killed?"

"Passengers are all right. Where is Mrs. Page?"

"She cried, an' tuk on awful about ye; an' borrered a hoss to ride right on down the road to meet the other stage, an' let 'em know what's up."

"She did, did she?" said Sam, very thoughtfully. "Waal, that is odd. Why, she ran away with my team—that's what she did; and it's all a hoax about the 'road-agents.' The passengers are back at the other station."

Sam had suddenly become "all things to all men," to a degree that surprised himself. He was wrong about the horse, too, as was proven by its return to its owner four days after. By the same hand came the following letter to Mr. Samuel Rice:

"Dear Mr. Rice: It was so good of you! I thank you more than I can say. I wish I could set myself right in your eyes, for I prize your friendship dearly—dearly; but I know that I cannot. It has not been all my fault. I was married to a bad, bad man, when I was only fifteen. He has ruined my life; but now he is dead, and I need not fear him. I will hereafter live as a good woman should live. The tears run down my cheeks as I write you this farewell—as they did that day when I saw that sweet woman and her babe at the farm-house gate; and knew what was in your thought. Heaven send you such a wife. Good-bye, dear Mr. Rice, good-bye.

"Dolly Page!"

There are some men, as well as women, in this world, who could figure in the role of Evangeline, who have tender, loyal, and constant hearts. Such a one was the driver of the Lucky-dog stage. But, though he sat on that box for two years longer, and scrutinized every dark-eyed, sweet-voiced lady-passenger who rode in his coach during that time, often with an intense longing for a sight of the face he craved—it never came. Out of the heaven of his life that star had vanished forever, and nothing was left him but a soiled photograph, and a tear-stained letter, worn with frequent folding and unfolding.